Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

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Jazztonight
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Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Wed Jul 23, 2014 7:47 am

A number of months ago, I asked the Forum about taking a trip across the country on Amtrak. I am currently in the first week of a month-long excursion, and have decided to write about my experience.

One reason I am able to write just now is that we are stuck--literally--in the middle of a cornfield some place in Indiana, 90 minutes from my next destination, Cincinnati. We have been stuck for approximately four hours. It is almost 8am. And now it's raining.

Do I care? Not really. Better a delay on the train than sitting in an airport waiting room or on the plane itself--both of which I've done in the past. I took this trip because I am soooo tired of flying.

Overview: I bought an Amtrak USRail pass for $679. This allows me 30 days of travel with up to 12 segments.
http://tickets.amtrak.com/itd/amtrak/selectpass
15 and 45 day passes are also available.

I worked out an incredible itinerary, and am traveling (alone) from Oakland, CA to NYC, round trip. The destination purpose is to attend my 50th high school reunion in Long Island on August 2.

I was warned by EVERYONE to expect delays, Amtrak included. (I've found the Amtrak employees to be generally polite and helpful; but they cannot control the delays, most of which are due to freight train conflicts.) And I HAVE met delays at virtually every stop along the way. That said, here I am, in a comfortable rail car,with LOTS of legroom, looking out on, well, a cornfield! Along the way, we've passed through the Rockies, small town America, over big and small rivers, and I have met a bunch of interesting people--young and old.

The seats are four across--two on each side of the aisle, and mostly I've been able to have both seats to myself while sleeping, although that's just been a convenient accident.

I planned this trip so that I'd never be on the train more than one night at a time. In that way, I felt a sleeper compartment, which is very costly, could be avoided.

I left Tuesday, July 15, on the California Zephyr out of Emeryville, CA. I actually walked with my roller bag and daypack from my apartment to the Jack London Square station (is that cool, or what?), and the conductor "waived" the $7 fare to Emeryville.

I arrived in Denver the next day an hour late, and a HS friend met me and drove me to his home on 40 acres in the Colorado Rockies 90 minutes away. On Friday, I departed for Omaha, and stayed with friends there for a couple of nights. Omaha is great! And I'm sure that this very clean and livable city, with a world-class zoo, incredible downtown and river area, and endless shopping, owes much to the largesse and influence of Warren B. and his friends. The city is probably a reflection of both personal and corporate wealth. Omaha residents are proud of their city, and tolerate the weather pretty well, with complaints.

I'd never been in Chicago, and just spent one night there (the train arrived a couple of hours late). I stayed in the Silversmith Hotel on Wabash Ave., walking distance (less than a mile) from Union Station. The 90 minute architectural boat trip on the river was excellent. I'll be back to Chicago after the reunion and will connect with some people I have not seen in over ten years.

So, here I am, still on the train in the cornfield, waiting to get to Cincinnati to see my son and his family. The good news is that instead of him having to pick me up at 3:17am, it's now 8:45 am and we are STILL 90 minutes from our destination!

I have a hard time sleeping on the train, but have managed a couple of hours at a time. That said, I don't sleep well at home on the Tempurpedic, and it is impossible for me to sleep on a plane.

The food on the train is fair to okay, but because I don't eat meat, the selections for me are few, and I'm bringing my own food whenever possible.

Sorry for the long post. I'll update in a few days.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Faith20879 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 7:54 am

Hello jazz,

I thoroughly enjoyed your report. Please keep it coming. Thanks!


Faith

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Wed Jul 23, 2014 7:56 am

For those of you worried about me 8-) we just started moving again at 8:55 am.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Johm221122 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 7:59 am

Thanks for sharing, I rode from Memphis to New Orleans (2) and from Virginia (car train)To Orlando (4 times as kid).I truly have many good memories of Amtrak :beer
John

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by john94549 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:03 am

Pick up a copy of the July (2014) Harper's. Kevin Baker's piece entitled "21st Century Limited" chronicles his travel cross-country on Amtrak. If you can't find one, PM me with a mailing address for you along the way, and I'll pop a copy in the mail to you.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Hawkeye5 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:23 am

Thank you for the report! Please keep us updated.

Rail travel is something I hope to engage in during retirement. Although the last lengthy trip I made was after high school graduation from central Iowa to California (pre-Amtrak) I still have memories of that long ago trip and some of the people.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by hillman » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:28 am

john94549 wrote:Pick up a copy of the July (2014) Harper's. Kevin Baker's piece entitled "21st Century Limited" chronicles his travel cross-country on Amtrak. If you can't find one, PM me with a mailing address for you along the way, and I'll pop a copy in the mail to you.
For those who cannot wait for John94549's generous offer:
http://harpers.org/archive/2014/07/21st ... y-limited/

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by dbltrbl » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:37 am

Jazz,

Excellent report. As for the food I am sure it is still better than plane food. Being vegetarian its always little harder to get descent food outside of large cities and especially when traveling by plane, train or bus. Keep us posted and welcome to Cincinnati.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by JimDawg » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:41 am

Jazz,

I daydream of engaging in a trip like yours someday. Please keep the updates coming!

Safe Travels,
Jim

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by binary13 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:58 am

Thanks for posting! I took an Amtrak train ride from Cleveland to Washington D.C. (via NYC) and back about 15 years ago (my, how the time flies!), and really enjoyed the different viewpoint you get as compared to other modes of transportation. Any time I plan a trip these days, I check the train fare and schedule just to see... Unfortunately, things haven't lined up to make it work for our trips so far, but I'm still hoping to introduce my wife and son to the wonders of the rail someday.

I look forward to your updates!

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by jlawrence01 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 9:40 am

My major objection to taking Amtrak out of Chicago is that the train NEVER arrives in Cincinnati on time - it seems to be 3-4 hours late as a matter of course.

Instead, we take MegaBus from Union Terminal in Chicago. The additional advantage of MegaBus is that it drops you off at the University of Cincinnati or downtown. The train station is not located in a good neighborhood ... and who wants to meet you at 3 am?

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Ged » Wed Jul 23, 2014 9:52 am

I've traveled by train up and down the NE corridor several times, and in France on both their local lines and the TGV.

I generally prefer train travel to air, and passenger rail works particularly well in a country the size of France. The TGV was posh.

The US rail system is built for freight and not passenger use. So I'm afraid passenger rail cross country just has to lump it. The flip side is that the US freight rail system is arguably the best in the world.

I've not tried anything overnight but I have this odd thought of trying the Trans Siberian run. London to Beijing or something similar. I've heard that on that you are likely to drink a lot of vodka and make some lifelong friends.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by countdown » Wed Jul 23, 2014 11:42 am

Enjoyed your post Jazz. I love train travel. Will be taking an Amtrak sleeper car for the first time later this year.
If you don't have a connection to catch, hopefully delays can be enjoyed...? As 'they' say, 'it's about the journey, not the destination'...

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by dumbbunny » Wed Jul 23, 2014 12:32 pm

Thanks for posting. I'm going to check out the month pass. My wife says I need to get away for while.
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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by dolphinsaremammals » Wed Jul 23, 2014 12:47 pm

I would love to do this. Alas, I get motion sickness, and Dramamine puts me out like a light.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Calm Man » Wed Jul 23, 2014 12:58 pm

Excellent report. Please keep posting.
For OP or others who have done something similar -- an itinerary with so many train segments is a lot to keep track of I guess. But for the conductors on the train, does one need to print out 12 "tickets" or how is this managed?

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by bubbadog » Wed Jul 23, 2014 1:33 pm

I think you will really enjoy the next segment from Cincinnati to Washington DC. It travels through the New River Gorge area of West Virginia. My wife and I did it with the kids a couple of years ago and had a great time. Keep us posted on your travels.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Wed Jul 23, 2014 2:35 pm

Calm Man wrote:Excellent report. Please keep posting.
For OP or others who have done something similar -- an itinerary with so many train segments is a lot to keep track of I guess. But for the conductors on the train, does one need to print out 12 "tickets" or how is this managed?
When the itinerary is "finalized," a "book" of tickets is printed. You use this book of tickets as your entry on each of the trains. You also get a copy of the Amtrak Railpass, which you need to carry with you.

If you want to make changes in any of the legs, which I actually did need to do, you call Amtrak, and if there is a coach seat available, they'll change it. Then you need to visit one of the stations where they'll print out a new ticket for that leg and replace the paper ticket in your booklet. This part of the scheme is quite efficient.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Wed Jul 23, 2014 2:46 pm

dbltrbl wrote:Jazz,

Excellent report. As for the food I am sure it is still better than plane food. Being vegetarian its always little harder to get descent food outside of large cities and especially when traveling by plane, train or bus. Keep us posted and welcome to Cincinnati.
I made it to Cincinnati! (I went out to brunch with my son, and just woke up from a power nap.)

It turns out, they say, that there was a "rail grinder" smoothing the tracks ahead of us. It has it's own small engine, which broke down while still on the track. A locomotive was required to remove it, and that required a "crew," and that took a long time to put into place. Our train got into the station 6-7 hours late.

When we got off the train, there was a long line of people waiting to get on. I yelled out to them, "Here we are, right on time!" That got a laugh.

Hopefully, most had gone online for an update before showing up at 3:17am, or had been notified by text, etc., about the delay.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by dgdevil » Wed Jul 23, 2014 3:04 pm

1) Vegetarians are allowed in Omaha?

2) Apologies to any foreigners who logically expect American trains to conform vaguely to a schedule.

3) You probably didn't have time to notice, but Union Station-Chicago was used in the Untouchables movie - the carriage-down-the-stairs shootout scene.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by 22twain » Wed Jul 23, 2014 5:06 pm

Assuming you're going to continue eastward on the Cardinal, maybe you'll get lucky and there will be a similar delay at Cincy. Then you wouldn't have to get to the station at 3AM, and you'd see the stretch along the Ohio River to Huntington WV in daylight. I hear the trip across WV is one of the more scenic Eastern routes.
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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by poker27 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 5:09 pm

Someday I would like to do something like this (by the time I have this amount of time we will probably have floating trains). Definitely keep updating as you get bored/delayed.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by scrabbler1 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 7:48 pm

My ladyfriend and I just got back to NY on the Cardinal just over a week ago. We went from NYC to Indy then used other means of transit to get to her home town of Louisville. We left on Friday morning, June 27th and made it to Indy only about 15 minutes late, just after 5 AM. We then rented a car and drove just under 2 hours to Louisville. We ate breakfast and hung out at a Steak N Shake in Indy which was near the Amtrak/Greyhound station and the car rental office. The trip on the train was very scenic although the food on the train was not very good. One of the toilets in our coach car got filled up between Cincy and Indy. We were about 45 minutes late at one point but they made up most of the time between Cincy and Indy.

The return trip was supposed to begin just before midnight on Saturday night, July 12th. We took a Greyhound bus from KY to Indy which went okay, giving us a 3 hour layover to eat dinner at the Steak N Shake. But when we returned to the Amtrak station, we were told the train was running 3 1/2 hours late from Chicago. That became 4 hours then 4 1/2 hours as the train did not arrive until 4:30 AM. We and the other 30 or 40 sleepy passengers had to wait in the dank waiting room which was not friendly to try to sleep. By the time we boarded the train and the train had to cut loose a few cars for other purposes, the train did not leave until 5 AM. We remained 5 hours late and the train did not arrive in NY until about 3:15 AM instead of just before 10 PM. This odd arrival time meant we had to wait ANOTHER 90 minutes for an LIRR train to get us out to LI by 5:45 AM Monday morning. My ladyfriend had to go to work by 7 AM so she had no sleep other than a few hours here and there on the train. (I am an early retiree but I as also wiped out.) The Cardinal was scenic once again, as we were able to ride during daylight hours between Indy and Cincy, something we did not expect to do. When we were in DC to change engines, I dashed to the food court in the station but just missed getting a meal at McDonalds because it was just after 11 PM (we were due there at 6 PM) and they had just closed!

Jazztonight, how were you able to post from the train? The Cardinal has no WiFi and cell phone service is spotty when the train is in the middle of nowhere. At least I was able to get on line at the Indy station as they had WiFi (via Greyhound) and I had an electrical outlet to use for a while at no charge.

No more Amtrak for me.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by john94549 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:01 pm

OP: Your hard copy of the article mentioned is now in the post. Bon voyage!

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by investingdad » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:05 pm

I'm on Amtrak right now as well, Providence down to Philadelphia.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by cantabtim » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:16 pm

NEC is cheating. Boston to DC is .... almost ... like a European real passenger railway. Well, if not European at least 1970s British Rail.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Calm Man » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:22 pm

I am getting concerned reading about the delays. I hate planes. Did I say I hate planes. I only take them when I must and only for must business trips, which hopefully will be over soon. I am "spoiled" by Amtrak on the Northeast corridor which is not horrible although almost every time I am at Penn Station I see people delayed on their Amtrak trains. But these middle of the country trips seem just horrible. Is it really that bad?

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by john94549 » Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:40 pm

Calm Man wrote: But these middle of the country trips seem just horrible. Is it really that bad?
As the Harper's article noted, you have to have a lot of patience to "ride the rails". Schedules are a great work of fiction. Before she died, my MIL took the train from Emeryville to the Empire Builder, thence across the northern plains eastward, to Tomah (Wisconsin). She recounted the many delays and hiccups on her (infrequent) telephone calls along the way. Mind you, this was pre-cell-phone or text. She got off the train, found a pay-phone, and called us.

Having had enough of this (fill in the blank), she flew back from Minneapolis after visiting with friends in Tomah.

Not saying the experience killed her, but she died shortly thereafter.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Wed Jul 23, 2014 9:29 pm

scrabbler1 wrote:Jazztonight, how were you able to post from the train? The Cardinal has no WiFi and cell phone service is spotty when the train is in the middle of nowhere. At least I was able to get on line at the Indy station as they had WiFi (via Greyhound) and I had an electrical outlet to use for a while at no charge.
No more Amtrak for me.
Yeah, your trip sounds disappointing.

Cell phone service has been pretty good generally, so I was able to write from the train in Indiana. It was spottier in the Rockies.

We expect airlines to run on time, and pretty much they do. But many of us have been stranded in airports, missed flights through no fault of our own, and so on, and I'd rather that we did not turn this thread into a litany of terrible things that have happened to us while traveling.

Point is, we know that trains will be late going into the game, and that's my starting point. Amtrak does not own most of the routes they travel on, so this is not like a European rail adventure.

Although I'm not generally known for my patience, I will do my best to maintain a positive attitude, maximize the travel tips I learn along the way, and enjoy looking at something other than clouds when I look out the windows. In fact, I've seen deer, horses, and some beautiful birds along the way. Not to mention the foliage. Hey, I'm retired, away from home for a month, have my credit card with me, and am enjoying the process and experience!
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by investingdad » Thu Jul 24, 2014 8:12 am

investingdad wrote:I'm on Amtrak right now as well, Providence down to Philadelphia.
And I will add that, having taken the Acela up to Providence, that the Acela is much more comfortable. The seats do a better job of supporting you. On the regular Northeast Local I was having pain in my leg due to back problems.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Aptenodytes » Thu Jul 24, 2014 8:28 am

investingdad wrote:
investingdad wrote:I'm on Amtrak right now as well, Providence down to Philadelphia.
And I will add that, having taken the Acela up to Providence, that the Acela is much more comfortable. The seats do a better job of supporting you. On the regular Northeast Local I was having pain in my leg due to back problems.
In most cases the premium to upgrade from coach to business on the Northeast Regional is quite modest. From Washington to NY it is about $40, for example. Business class on the regional is not quite as nice as the Acela, but it makes it more tolerable. Yesterday, for example, the AC was deficient in coach but working fine in business. And the regional business class seats are actually bigger than on the Acela.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Thu Jul 24, 2014 9:00 am

Aptenodytes wrote:
investingdad wrote:
investingdad wrote:I'm on Amtrak right now as well, Providence down to Philadelphia.
And I will add that, having taken the Acela up to Providence, that the Acela is much more comfortable. The seats do a better job of supporting you. On the regular Northeast Local I was having pain in my leg due to back problems.
In most cases the premium to upgrade from coach to business on the Northeast Regional is quite modest. From Washington to NY it is about $40, for example. Business class on the regional is not quite as nice as the Acela, but it makes it more tolerable. Yesterday, for example, the AC was deficient in coach but working fine in business. And the regional business class seats are actually bigger than on the Acela.
The Acela is not included as part of the USRail Pass. I asked. For this relatively short leg of my trip, it's not that important.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Fri Jul 25, 2014 4:42 am

It's Friday, July 25. 5:07 am, and we're departing Cincinnati about 90 minutes late. In the end, it did not make much difference whether the train left on time (3:27am) or not--it's still the middle of the night and one still has to get to the station at at a crazy hour. The taxi cost me $41 including tip; there was no traffic.

My son, grandson, and I took a 6 mile canoe trip this morning on the Little Miami River, which was fun on such a beautiful day. We capped off the evening downtown with great ice cream at Graeters, and then took part in a city effort to enter the Guinness Record Book for the most people salsa dancing at the same time. I just have a knack for being in the right place at the right time!

As in both Omaha and Chicago, a lot of work and money have gone into improving downtown Cincinnati. It appears to be a pretty livable and affordable city, and my son, his wife, and my grandson seem to have a nice life there.

There's a guy intermittently snoring VERY loudly in the seat in front of me, and a fussy, coughing baby a few rows back. No way one can expect an uninterrupted night on the coach car. That said, I've spoken to people traveling in the sleeper who have their own sets of complaints.

My seat mate is a nice woman, a tech writer who has a gig in Savannah, and rides the train a lot.

I brought a jar of peanut butter with me, along with some crackers, raisins, almonds, dried apricots, dark chocolate, my vitamins, and water. I think I'll survive until we arrive in DC this evening.

Looking out the window, it's dark, and thus there's nothing to see for a couple of hours.

My daughter, her husband, and two young sons live in Silver Spring, right across the street from the Washington, DC border. I'll be taking the Metro red line from the DC station to Silver Spring.

I had a chance to practice my flute for a while this afternoon; that felt good. Like exercise, if you lay off entirely for an entire month, you'll backslide too much, and need to catch up.

The adventure continues.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by an_asker » Fri Jul 25, 2014 10:17 am

Jazztonight wrote:It's Friday, July 25. 5:07 am, and we're departing Cincinnati about 90 minutes late. In the end, it did not make much difference whether the train left on time (3:27am) or not--it's still the middle of the night and one still has to get to the station at at a crazy hour. The taxi cost me $41 including tip; there was no traffic.

My son, grandson, and I took a 6 mile canoe trip this morning on the Little Miami River, which was fun on such a beautiful day. We capped off the evening downtown with great ice cream at Graeters, and then took part in a city effort to enter the Guinness Record Book for the most people salsa dancing at the same time. I just have a knack for being in the right place at the right time!

As in both Omaha and Chicago, a lot of work and money have gone into improving downtown Cincinnati. It appears to be a pretty livable and affordable city, and my son, his wife, and my grandson seem to have a nice life there.
In a couple of decades, I hope to be in the situation you are currently in and hope to ride the trains. One request/suggestion - please blog about your travels and include photos.

Downtown Cincinnati is nice. I was there with my son last summer - he was participating in the Science Olympiad in Dayton and we ended up driving down to Cincy on a spare day. The murals on the South (?) bank of the river were pretty. I took quite a few photos of those. Besides, the opposite bank is where downtown Cincinnati is located. We enjoyed walking in that little park by the river. The day we were there, a pair of newlyweds were visiting with their entourage. It felt nice to watch them all having fun.
There's a guy intermittently snoring VERY loudly in the seat in front of me, and a fussy, coughing baby a few rows back. No way one can expect an uninterrupted night on the coach car. That said, I've spoken to people traveling in the sleeper who have their own sets of complaints.

My seat mate is a nice woman, a tech writer who has a gig in Savannah, and rides the train a lot.

I brought a jar of peanut butter with me, along with some crackers, raisins, almonds, dried apricots, dark chocolate, my vitamins, and water. I think I'll survive until we arrive in DC this evening.

Looking out the window, it's dark, and thus there's nothing to see for a couple of hours.

My daughter, her husband, and two young sons live in Silver Spring, right across the street from the Washington, DC border. I'll be taking the Metro red line from the DC station to Silver Spring.

I had a chance to practice my flute for a while this afternoon; that felt good. Like exercise, if you lay off entirely for an entire month, you'll backslide too much, and need to catch up.

The adventure continues.
I've been to Silver Spring as well. Long long ago, in my previous incarnation as a Transportation Engineer (not to be confused for a train driver!), my schoolmates and I used to drive up annually to DC for the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference in downtown DC (can I really say that? Isn't all of DC a 'downtown'?). We used to stay in the least expensive digs possible (within reason), and one year that happened to be in Silver Spring. We used to take the "Red Line, Shady Grove" back from the conference :-)

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Fri Jul 25, 2014 3:18 pm

an_asker wrote:
In a couple of decades, I hope to be in the situation you are currently in and hope to ride the trains. One request/suggestion - please blog about your travels and include photos.
I had considered blogging about the trip, but knowing myself I would have been thinking about it, writing it, and editing it 24/7, and that's not what I wanted this to be about.

In fact, I am finishing up a music composition project that I've been working on for over two years, and this rail-trip is the opportunity to rest and re-group so I can finish it up.

Thanks for your "vote of interest," though. :beer
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by rjbraun » Fri Jul 25, 2014 7:27 pm

Aptenodytes wrote:
investingdad wrote:
investingdad wrote:I'm on Amtrak right now as well, Providence down to Philadelphia.
And I will add that, having taken the Acela up to Providence, that the Acela is much more comfortable. The seats do a better job of supporting you. On the regular Northeast Local I was having pain in my leg due to back problems.
In most cases the premium to upgrade from coach to business on the Northeast Regional is quite modest. From Washington to NY it is about $40, for example. Business class on the regional is not quite as nice as the Acela, but it makes it more tolerable. Yesterday, for example, the AC was deficient in coach but working fine in business. And the regional business class seats are actually bigger than on the Acela.
I've been riding the NE Regional for years between NYC and DC. The premium to take the Acela makes no sense to me, for personal travel, especially when I manage to book a $49 fare. But I did take the Acela recently and I actually found the ride marginally less comfortable. I don't know if the faster speeds lead to a bumpier ride or what, but apart from the 20 minutes or so shorter ride, I personally see no reason to take the Acela.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by BolderBoy » Sat Jul 26, 2014 9:28 am

Calm Man wrote:I am getting concerned reading about the delays. I hate planes. Did I say I hate planes. I only take them when I must and only for must business trips, which hopefully will be over soon. I am "spoiled" by Amtrak on the Northeast corridor which is not horrible although almost every time I am at Penn Station I see people delayed on their Amtrak trains. But these middle of the country trips seem just horrible. Is it really that bad?
Sounds ghastly, doesn't it?

I've only been on the train (since the 1950s) to take the California Zephyr from Denver to Glenwood Springs and back. 6ish hours each way, almost right on-time and gorgeous scenery. Plus, the carefree 6hrs beats the 3ish hour drive by a country mile.

Flying - bletch. Last flight was horrible, squeezed into the seat with knees firmly wedge (and I'm under 6' tall.) One of my workmates said the the other day, "It is only going to get worse."

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Carlton » Sat Jul 26, 2014 11:58 am

Long distance rail travel has to be part of the vacation and not thought of in a purely transportation way. Delays will occur, and you just grab another drink from the lounge car/read/sleep/chat with your seatmate. The on-board train delays are annoying, but beats sitting on a plane taxiway or terminal. Several years ago I flew from NYC to Chicago and took the Empire Builder to Whitefish MT, spent a week in the Rockies, and then took the EB from Whitefish to Seattle where I spent a few days with a rental car before flying back to NYC.

I had a sleeping compartment for the leg between CHI and Whitefish, then coach to Seattle. The compartments are expensive, but you get a better nights sleep than sitting in a seat. The coach seats are pretty wide and comfortable, with a flip-out leg rest and tons of legroom.

The scenery was great! Even the plains of N. Dakota and Montana with the endless horizons as far as the eye can see, the little remote towns blinking by with the sound of the engine's horn way up front as the engineer blows for the grade crossings, makes for a very relaxing trip. Since the "Highline" is mostly single track, we would occasionally stop on a passing siding to allow huge, 120 car freight trains to pass in the opposite direction. BNSF was pretty good at allowing the Amtrak train to then back up out of the passing siding and continue around any freights in front of us as the passenger train speed limits of 79mph are quite a bit higher than the freight trains.

Warts and all, if you have time, it's a nice, relaxing way to travel that beats the horror-show that flying has become, but will not save time or money though. It's a not-perfect glimpse of the bygone era of the "name trains" and streamliners, then run with great pride by the private railroads in the 1920's-60's with immaculate equipment, great food and attentive service.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by scrabbler1 » Sat Jul 26, 2014 12:32 pm

My ladyfriend, who paid for our Amtrak round-trip to Indy a few weeks ago, received an email with a link to an Amtrak online survey. Because she had used my email address when she booked her ticket on line (my printer is more reliable than hers), the survey email came to me. I asked her if she wanted to answer the survey but she told me to go ahead and respond if I wanted to.

The survey pertained only to the return trip, the Indy-to-NY trip which got delayed for 5 1/2 hours. Needless to say, I replied very unfavorably to it. All of the answers were multiple-choice with no free response sections.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by mickeyd » Sat Jul 26, 2014 2:30 pm

We had pleasant train rides while visiting Alaska a few years ago. Yesterday DW mentioned out of the blue that we should take a train trip somewhere. I didn't encourage her nor asked the obvious Q~ "To where?". This thread has me thinking "Why not?"
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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by HIinvestor » Sat Jul 26, 2014 3:00 pm

In 2010, H, I, D and S took a "road trip" that started with a lovely overnight train ride in sleeper car from LA to Seattle. We used HotWire to book a a nice hotel in Seattle. It was a lot of fun and gorgeous scenery. It was NOT cheap, but a memorable experience. We did NOT attempt to sit on the toilet seat (which had holes for drainage) to take a shower for the overnight ride.

We have contemplated taking a longer train ride across more of the country. We slept well in the sleeper--with our two adjoining spaces. Our kids wanted to leave one "bed" set up as a bed and allowed the porter to make the others back into beds.

The food in the dining car that is exclusively for those who have sleepers or mini-sleepers was much better than we had expected and included in the price of the ticket. You can also wander over to the main area and eat in the main dining area where you again don't have to pay (the price was included in your ticket). The observation car was nice and it was great that a naturalist came aboard as the train crossed from OR to WA and talked about some of the scenery and historic areas we were passing.

We mean to catch more trains, but haven't managed to fit it in. Will try to work on this. ;)

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Sun Jul 27, 2014 10:14 am

I've been in DC/Maryland the past couple of days, not sight-seeing, but rather visiting with my daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons. Last night I met an old friend in downtown Silver Spring for dinner and conversation at an Indian restaurant. It was very pleasant. I'd known Christine before I'd met my wife, and she was never impressed by me. :wink: At one point, I was at a party and asked her to dance. She declined, so I asked the woman sitting next to her, her good friend it turns out, if she'd like to dance. We danced a few times, and eventually got married!

Christine finally came around to realize what a prince among men I really am. Her friend Sharon and I are still married.

Food on the train continues to be an issue for me. I'm particular about my diet, and don't eat meat, chicken or shellfish, all of which seem to be the primary offerings just about everywhere. But that's another thread, I guess.

Tomorrow I'll hop on the Metro to DC Union Station. I'll then take a commuter train to Penn Station and the subway to Brooklyn, where I'll be staying with my cousin, a retired judge. The last time I saw him, we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge together, and had a photo of us taken on my camera by a passerby. When I found the photo a few years later, I saw, to my sad surprise, that the Twin Towers were in the background skyline.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by boomergeneration » Sun Jul 27, 2014 10:51 am

A few years ago I took Amtrak from Seattle to Charlottesville, VA, switching trains in Chicago. From Seattle to Chicago was 2 nights and then another night from Chicago to Charlottesville. For the leg from Seattle to Chicago I paid for a sleeper called a roomette. I believe it was about $100.00 per night in addition to the regular ticket. Like airplane fares, the sleeper fares go up and down and I think tend to get more expensive the closer in one books. And often there will be none available close to the trip time. As another poster noted, meals in the dining car are included with a sleeper. The dining car was a fun part of the trip. Each table seats 4 people and they fill each table up. I was traveling alone and each time I would be seated with 3 other people I didn't know. Everyone was friendly and in vacation mode. Mostly retirees. I thought the food was good. I am also a vegetarian and they offered a black bean burger that was tasty. Also oatmeal and fruit salad for breakfast. Also the porter brings around little treats to the roomette during the trip, like chocolate and champagne.

On the leg from Chicago to Charlottesville I didn't have a roomette and it was a very different experience. I couldn't sleep at all sitting up in the coach seat. Every seat was occupied and it was stuffy. There was also a high school class of teenagers that were noisy throughout the night.

All in all, I enjoyed the trip and would do it again. I loved the scenery and the slower pace of train travel. If I do it again, I would definitely splurge on a roomette for every night.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by MP173 » Sun Jul 27, 2014 11:51 am

Buyer beware regarding Amtrak travel these days.

Amtrak runs on the freight railroad's tracks and the freight traffic is nearing all time highs. There simply is a capacity issue with railroads these days. Particular route with issues are the Empire Builder across the Northern Tier from Chicago to Seattle. This is due to the increased Balken oil moving out of North Dakota. BNSF is moving 8-10 loaded trains daily of oil (plus that many empties).

The service between Chicago and New York across Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany, etc. is also experiencing delays due to high levels of freight volume. Build plenty of cushion into connecting transportation modes and travel on a leisurely basis.

Ed

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Carlton » Sun Jul 27, 2014 3:11 pm

^^^^This^^^^ One of the dumbest moves was to allow after bankruptcy in the 1980's, the Milwaukee Road to rip up their entire mainline between Chicago and Seattle. This was a heavy-rail route that would take much pressure off the BNSF Highline for the tremendous intermodal, coal and oil traffic travelling between west-coast ports and the Midwest. It also was the route of the Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha passenger train, an extremely scenic ride esp. through the Cascades.

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by 22twain » Sun Jul 27, 2014 4:42 pm

Jazztonight wrote:Tomorrow I'll hop on the Metro to DC Union Station. I'll then take a commuter train to Penn Station
Just to nit-pick a bit, a lot of people do use Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor to commute from one city to another, but "commuter train" normally refers to one operated by a regional agency. Three of them operate on the Northeast Corridor between DC and NY, in addition to Amtrak. One covers most of the section in MD, another covers PA and most of DE, and a third covers NJ and Penn Station (NY). If they all connected to each other, it would be possible to ride from DC to NY cheaper than Amtrak, at the cost of more time and less comfort. However, there's a gap between MD and DE.
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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Sun Jul 27, 2014 6:07 pm

22twain wrote:
Jazztonight wrote:Tomorrow I'll hop on the Metro to DC Union Station. I'll then take a commuter train to Penn Station
Just to nit-pick a bit, a lot of people do use Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor to commute from one city to another, but "commuter train" normally refers to one operated by a regional agency. Three of them operate on the Northeast Corridor between DC and NY, in addition to Amtrak. One covers most of the section in MD, another covers PA and most of DE, and a third covers NJ and Penn Station (NY). If they all connected to each other, it would be possible to ride from DC to NY cheaper than Amtrak, at the cost of more time and less comfort. However, there's a gap between MD and DE.
No argument from me! I used the word "commuter" in referring to a frequently-traveled and relatively short route. I acknowledge your distinction.
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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Wed Jul 30, 2014 7:23 am

I am back in Brooklyn, NY, home of my birth!

I'm staying with my cousin, a retired judge. He tells me that if Brooklyn were an independent city, it would be the fourth largest city in the US. Who knew?

I'm becoming much more comfortable getting around on the Metro/subway.

My cousin lives near Court St., walking distance to the Brooklyn Bridge. After dinner last night, we walked over that bridge to Manhattan to visit his daughter who lives in a studio apartment in a high rise with an incredible view. Her monthly rent (which she shares with her fiancé), is about $3500.

Walking over the bridge is great, and it's even more spectacular at night. The walk is very popular with cyclists and joggers, tourists, families, couples, etc.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Bridge

Yesterday, I had a very long lunch with a high school classmate (we were actually in the 3rd grade together, but I've only seen her once before in the last 50 years). She has worked as an artist/sculptor in NYC her whole life and lived to tell me about it. We told each other our life stories, and then we walked over to the High Line, a must-do walk in Manhattan.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Lin ... York_City)

The history of the High Line is worth reading if you don't know about it.

When I was a boy growing up in Wantagh, Long Island, my Dad, like so many others, commuted to NYC each day on the Long Island Rail Road. His office was on 4th Ave., which became Park Avenue South. I realized that I was not far from the building in which he worked, and wandered over there, if only for nostalgic purposes. I then realized that it was right near Union Square, a nice area and historical place.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Sq ... York_City)

Tomorrow I head to uptown Manhattan. Today I'm planning to work out (something besides walking!)

My 50th high school reunion is this coming Saturday. After my travels and adventures so far, the reunion may be anti-climactic. We'll see.
Last edited by Jazztonight on Wed Jul 30, 2014 9:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by runner9 » Wed Jul 30, 2014 8:26 am

Thanks for the update!

$3500 a month in rent, wow! Can I ask what they do for a living?

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Re: Riding the Rails--my Amtrak trip

Post by Jazztonight » Wed Jul 30, 2014 9:24 am

runner9 wrote:Thanks for the update!
$3500 a month in rent, wow! Can I ask what they do for a living?
I'll send you a PM.
"What does not destroy me, makes me stronger." Nietzsche

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